Supp. Chapter 4, Lesson 1 Text
Lesson One: Global Computing Issues
Computing platforms and the Internet may have been born in the United States, but they rapidly spread around the world and now touch lives in every nation. In this lesson, we will discuss some of the challenges faced in globalization and discuss how information may be shared or blocked around the world.
Global Internet Reach
Before the Internet, people, products and information tended to be restricted at national boundaries.
- A person needs to get a passport in order to travel between nations.
- Products that are made in one country and shipped to another go through a customs inspection process when entering a new nation.
- Electronic communication such as television, radio and telephone conversations tended to be focused in local areas.
As a result, people in one part of the world may not have a good understanding of the culture and events happening in other countries. However, the Internet has significantly changed the ability of people from around the world to communicate!
Today, we enjoy instant access to news, events and conversations from people around the world. You can make cheap or free world-wide phone calls online, have an instant chat session with anyone at any time and send email to anyone that has an email address. Old barriers to communication no longer apply.
Internet has a global reach and can share big stories with national or world-wide impact. However, many of the things you find online are more useful at a local level. You might search for local restaurants in your city, read about your favorite home-town sports team, get vacation dates from your school calendar, or find a place to change the oil in your car. All of these things are important to you, but not usually to someone in another country.
Some news sites will specialize in local, national or global information. Your local town newspaper may run a web site filled with stories about nearby events, while a national platform could focus on national political and economic news. Other sites could contain top stores of interest from around the globe. The great thing about the Internet is that you can choose what information to see, no matter where you are. So, a U.S. service member stationed overseas might still check on his local sports team, or a traveling aid worker might still receive email updates from family members at home.
Types of Censorship
Ideally, everyone connected to the Internet would have the same free and easy access to information. However, unfortunately, that is not always the case. Information may be limited to local users in a variety of ways.
At a national level, certain countries may decide to block parts or all of the Internet. The leaders of a country may decide they don't want their citizens to see information about global events or ideas that run counter to their national policies. A government that is based on fear and intimidation may also want to prevent citizens from communicating freely with each other in order to prevent organized resistance.
Finally, think about how your opinions and choices are shaped by large search engines like Google. The page ranking of search results has a large impact in the links you follow. A link that is displayed earlier in the results list is more likely to be visited than something a few pages later. Do you trust your search engine to give you unbiasedand uncensored results?
For example, Google might decide to promote their own products and services over the competition and show their own links first in the search results, moving competitive results later in the list or leaving them off entirely. You could only work around kind of censorship by using an alternative search engine or finding links to those products from other sites.
Shaping Public Perception
Our society used to form shared opinions and shape public perception slowly. You would normally get information from newspapers, televisions, or radio stations with daily or periodic news coverage. Professional editors would normally review a story for accuracy. You might individually react to a news item, but others wouldn't know how you felt.
Now, with instant Internet communication and social media platforms, news can be shared with others in real-time as it occurs, with streaming videos and live posts from the scene. The information can be shared by anyone without any formal journalistic training, so it may or may not meet standards for accuracy or provide enough context.
You can post your reaction to the news as it happens, and anyone that sees your post may also react to it. In this say, public perception can be rapidly formed and echoed around the Internet, sometimes with very little basis in fact. Public perception might change quickly as counter-arguments or new details emerge that change the overall understanding of the story. So, while the Internet does provide great tools for instant communication, these tools come with the possibility that good, bad, biased, unbiased, truthful and false stories are all shared equally quickly.
Overcoming Language Barriers
In the United States, English is the most common language. English words have 26 alphabetic characters, and when you combine numbers and other symbols on the keyboard, you have a little over 100 unique symbols to display on a computer screen. However, as computing platforms spread around the globe, they needed to support a wide variety of language symbols.
For example, many Oriental languages are made up of thousands of symbols. Using the same numbering system for English, Spanish, Chinese, Russian, and all of the other global languages was not practical until the Unicode system was developed. Unicode is a central standard that uniquely identifies all characters and symbols in all languages with a unique number. A document that supports Unicode can display characters from all languages at the same time.
Computer operating systems also need to support the different ways that text is displayed. While English is shown from left-to-right, Arabic is written from right-to-left. Oriental languages are generally written in columns from top-to-bottom. So, depending on the location of the user and the language involved, a word processor or presentation program may need to shift modes and display the text in the correct orientation.
Accessibility for All Users
Our global cultures includes all kinds of people, some with special needs that make it difficult to consume information or use programs the same way everyone else does. For example, a blind person would be unable to read text printed on the screen, while a deaf person could not hear the narration of a video. Some people are unable to physically use a mouse or a keyboard. How can our digital platforms support the needs of these users?
The term "accessibility" refers to the availability of information and programs in alternate formats that are easy for all kinds of people to use. An accessible web site, for example, may contain some special HTML attributes that make it easy for screen readers to turn text into audio for a blind person. That same web site might also have a navigation system that can be used equally well with a mouse or a keyboard.
If you'd like to learn more about digital accessibility, the following links provide a good starting point for additional reading.
Work with Me: Exploring Global and Local News
Take some time to identify and explore two different news web sites. One may be a local web site supported by your home town newspaper, while another might be a major national or global news outlet.
Survey the stories available on the front page of each web site and answer the questions below.
- How applicable is the information to you or someone from your area?
- Do you think a global audience or someone from another country would be interested in any of the news items? Why or why not?
- Was your opinion on a subject changed by reading an article? Are you confident that the article was truthful and contained enough information to form a good opinion?
- How would your life be impacted if a local or national censor prevented you from seeing some of these stories?
Many countries enjoy free access to all kinds of information, but keep in mind that others across the globe might not have the same advantage.